Just three months after announcing a new ownership team, developers of a long-troubled 183-acre site in North Miami revealed new details for the the planned live-work-play community at the project’s formal groundbreaking.
Within 15 months, two 200-unit rental buildings should begin rising on the site, along with a 10-acre swimming lagoon and an open air retail-lined “main street.” When complete, the complex will include 37 acres of parks, two swimming lagoons, 1 million square feet of commercial space for office and retail, a hotel and more than 4,000 residential units, at a total investment of $3-$4 billion.
Despite a five-decade history of failed plans for the site, “we will get this done,” proclaimed Richard LeFrak, whose New York firm LeFrak has partnered with Aventura’s Turnberry Associates on the plot formerly known as Biscayne Landing. The project comes with entitlements for infrastructure and approval for more than 4,300 residential units.
“We have the experience and we have the money.” In honor of its partners, the project has been dubbed SoLeMia — So for the Soffer Family of Turnberry, Le for LeFrak, and Mia for the county. Jeffrey Soffer and Turnberry Associates will handle day-to-day operations, said LeFrak, in consultation with the LeFrak team.
In applauding the new development team, North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph said, “The average person may not realize what is going on today. This is a rebirth of the city of North Miami.” The development team is funding vocational training for city residents and has agreed that at least 10 percent of the construction workforce and 10 percent of businesses hired will come from North Miami.
The two ownership families expect to spend more than $100 million in cash in acquiring the land and creating the water, sewer and power infrastructure required on the former Superfund site.
Jackie Soffer, who leads retail development for Aventura Mall and SoLeMia, said she expects to sign national and local chef-owned restaurants, national and local shops, a dine-in movie theater and bowling in the pedestrian-friendly “lifestyle center.” Currently announced is a Warren Henry Auto showroom featuring Land Rover, Infinity and Jaguar.
The site, off Biscayne Boulevard at Northeast 151st Street in North Miami near Oleta River State Park and the Biscayne Bay Campus of Florida International University, is the largest parcel of undeveloped land in Miami-Dade County east of I-95.
For more than five decades, a string of companies announced ambitious plans for the site that have failed, including a futuristic amusement park in the 1960s and an indoor ski resort in the late 1990s. From 1975 to 1981, the tract was used as a municipal landfill that grew so tainted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated it a Superfund site in 1982. After the land was declared safe for development in 1999, various development teams — some with little experience — proposed various plans; all were non-starters except for two condo towers, which were built in 2007 and went into foreclosure after the housing market crashed.
Those two towers, now occupied, overlook the site but are not part of the SoLeMia community.
Echoing his father’s words at a New Jersey groundbreaking 29 years ago, Harrison LeFrak told the audience, “If you have a big piece of land in a great location that people have forgotten or do not recognize the value in, it is an incredible business and community development opportunity ... Unlike other people in our business, we actually risk our money and our own reputations every time we do this. We are a different type of real estate partner [than] the city has had on this property in the past.”
In an interview, Richard LeFrak said he is predicting the project likely will take 15 years and two business cycles to reach full build out. Each of the families involved has a three-generation history of phased development. Among LeFrak’s many projects is the 600-acre Newport community on a former rail yard in Jersey City, launched in the mid-1980s that continues to grow. The Soffer family created Aventura on swamp land just a mile north of SoLeMia.
Miami Herald staff writer Nicholas Nehamas contributed to this report.